Big Board: Running backs' stock keeps dropping in NFL's eyes

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The stunning trade of Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday is the latest evidence of how the value of the running back position has plummeted in the NFL.

While Colts general manager Ryan Grigson is an obvious exception, many GMs are finding it increasingly difficult to invest a first-round pick in a position some coaches feel can be better fulfilled with a tandem approach rather than a lead superstar.

For the first time in 50 years, no runners were drafted in the first round in April. It could happen again in 2014.

Baylor's Lache Seastrunk, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and Washington's Bishop Sankey, the nation's leading rusher, could have the best chance at breaking into the top 32 next May.

The Big Board isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or the projected selection order. It is simply a ranking of the 32 best prospects potentially eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.

(* indicates underclassman)

1. Jadeveon Clowney*, DE, South Carolina (6-feet-6, 268 pounds): Three tackles for loss and two sacks in his first two SEC games (Georgia, Vanderbilt) should quiet some of Clowney's critics. With the bar set so high due to preseason hype, he's going to have a hard time living up to his billing. Clowney is a difference-maker in the mold of Julius Peppers and Mario Williams but he could fall lower than expected on draft day should the team with the first pick have any concerns at quarterback.

2. Teddy Bridgewater*, QB, Louisville (6-3, 220): Bridgewater was challenged by a feisty Kentucky defense on the road Sept. 14, but he showed his poise and talent in shrugging off a slow start to beat the Cardinals' state rival. Bridgewater is athletic, but it is his rare accuracy that sets him apart from the other top passers in the country.

3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (6-5, 305): A physical, technically sound blocker like his father, Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, Jake held up well at left tackle against Alabama despite it being just his third start at the all-important position. Matthews is every bit the player former teammate Luke Joeckel was a year ago -- and Joeckel was my top-rated prospect in the 2013 draft.

4. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (6-4, 238): As the No. 5 pick of the 2013 draft, Ziggy Ansah showed just what a breakout season can do for a pass-rusher. Barr, a former running back, exploded onto the Pac-12 last year to the tune of 21½ tackles for loss and 13½ sacks. He was all over the field against Nebraska, registering 10 tackles, a tackle for loss and two forced fumbles in the victory.

5. Cyrus Kouandjio*, OT, Alabama (6-5, 312): Some questioned the wisdom of moving Barrett Jones from left tackle (where he had won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the SEC's best lineman) to center in 2012. The reason for the switch was Kouandjio, a physically blessed athlete who some have compared to former Redskins Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, the No. 3 overall pick out of Alabama in 2000.

6. Louis Nix III*, DT, Notre Dame (6-3, 326): With broad shoulders, a thick lower half and surprisingly quick feet, Nix III is a classic run-stuffer with enough burst and determination to threaten the pocket as well.

7. Marqise Lee*, WR, Southern Cal (6-0, 195): Not every talent evaluator will appreciate Lee's willingness to speak publicly about players-only meetings. They will value the fact that he stepped up his performance after doing so, taking a Cody Kessler pass 80 yards for his first touchdown of the season in a 35-7 shellacking of Boston College.

8. Bradley Roby*, CB, Ohio State (5-11, 190): The Buckeyes used to churn out first-round defensive backs annually. Showing off his speed, fluidity and quick hands, Roby flashed the ability to renew this tradition against Cal, recording 6½ tackles and two passes broken up.

9. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (6-1, 225): Less-than-ideal size will always bring some detractors, but critics are finding it tougher to identify flaws in Boyd's game. He was more efficient than dominant in the Tigers' conference opener at North Carolina State, tossing three touchdowns against zero interceptions. A true dual-threat quarterback, Boyd is earning comparisons to Russell Wilson and the late Steve McNair from scouts.

10. C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama (6-2, 232): Athletic and instinctive, Mosley is a true three-down linebacker capable of making plays against the run and pass. Mosley's range and open-field tackling ability stood out against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M as he led the Tide with 12 tackles.

11. Sammy Watkins*, WR, Clemson (6-1, 200): It was Watkins, not USC's Lee, who was more impressive as a freshman. Injuries and suspension led to a disappointing sophomore campaign for the Clemson star while Lee won the Biletnikof Award. Watkins caught 10 passes Thursday but was largely held in check by NC State.

12. Brett Hundley*, QB, UCLA (6-3, 227): Hundley shook off an early fumble to complete 16 of 24 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns to guide UCLA to an impressive comeback win at Nebraska. Hundley, one of three potential blue-chip redshirt sophomore quarterbacks in the Pac-12, remains a bit rough around the edges but his size, athleticism and easy throwing motion have scouts excited about his upside.

13. Marcus Mariota*, QB, Oregon (6-3, 214): With his skill set already drawing comparisons to 49ers star Colin Kaepernick, Mariota is quickly proving that he's far from a product of Oregon's fast-paced offense but an emerging blue-chip QB prospect. The redshirt sophomore sensation proved more than capable of beating SEC speed by riddling Tennessee for a career-high 456 passing yards and four touchdowns.

14. Anthony Johnson*, DT, LSU (6-3, 305): Four former Bayou Bengal defenders have heard their name called in the first round since 2008. Johnson will have his work cut out for him this season with Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery in the NFL but his prototypical blend of size, power and athleticism makes him a strong bet to continue LSU's dominance along the defensive line.

15. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (6-7, 310): Possessing an incredible combination of size and athletic ability, Lewan has earned comparisons to former Michigan standout Jake Long throughout his career with the Wolverines. Lewan played well vs. Notre Dame and the Irish's talented defensive line in Michigan's impressive Week 2 victory.

16. Cameron Erving*, OT, Florida State (6-5, 310): Erving played in 13 games as a redshirt freshman defensive tackle but looked like a natural when moved to left tackle a season ago. Long, balanced and athletic, he offers immense upside.

17. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (6-3, 235): While Ziggy Ansah received most of the hype at BYU last fall, Van Noy was far and away the Cougars' more consistent defender. The linebacker had an eye-popping 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions and two blocked kicks. He was similarly productive in the 2013 opener against Virginia (four tackles, including 2½ for loss) as well as BYU's win over Texas (eight tackles, sack).

18. Antonio Richardson*, OT, Tennessee (6-6, 332): Nicknamed "Tiny," Richardson and his game proved anything but last season at left tackle for the Vols. Richardson is certainly a bit raw after just one season of starting action but he's shockingly smooth for a man of his size. He was one of the few Vols to impress in a humbling 59-14 loss in Eugene.

19. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor (6-5, 335): A dominating drive blocker who projects best at guard but spent the entire 2011 season protecting Robert Griffin III at left tackle, Richardson is massive, powerful and shockingly athletic.

20. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU (5-10, 182): Verrett lacks the size so en vogue in today's NFL but agility and ball skills never go out of style for cornerbacks. Verrett led the Big 12 with 22 passes defended and six interceptions in 2012. He fared well against LSU in the 2013 season opener (seven tackles, three passes broken up, sack) and shut out Texas Tech wideout Eric Ward, who had caught at least one pass in 27 consecutive games before matching up with Verrett and the Horned Frogs on Sept. 12.

21. Ryan Shazier*, OLB, Ohio State (6-2, 226): Shazier may be 10-15 pounds lighter than scouts would prefer but his instincts, speed and bone-jarring hits make him a fearful defender that offenses must account for on every snap.

22. Timmy Jernigan*, DT, Florida State (6-2, 298): Losing productive pass-rushers Bjoern Werner, Cornelius Carradine and Brandon Jenkins to the NFL is certainly going to hurt the Seminoles but Jernigan's explosive hands make him a terror up the middle.

23. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (6-6, 312): The Golden Gophers haven't produced a first-round NFL talent since the Patriots nabbed running back Lawrence Maroney in 2006. That is precisely the sort of buzz the Minneapolis native is generating. Hagemen was as dominant as hoped against Western Illinois, registering six tackles, including two for loss, and blocking his second kick of the young season.

24. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (6-3, 248): With an eye-popping 56 tackles for loss, 18 sacks and 11 forced fumbles already on his résumé entering the 2013 season, rest assured that scouts knew Mack well. Proving that his instincts and big-play proficiency could stand up when facing Ohio State (9½ tackles, 2½ sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown), however, has Mack's stock soaring.

25. C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa (6-6, 265): A throwback tight end capable of dominating opponents as both a blocker and receiver, Fiedorowicz (pronounced feh-DOR-uh-wits) lacks in name recognition and production (five catches, including one touchdown in Iowa's first two games) but not in talent.

26. Eric Ebron*, TE, North Carolina (6-4, 245): A highly athletic and versatile prospect who stars not only as a matchup nightmare and powerful in-line blocker but as an occasional defensive end as well, Ebron could leap to the top of the tight-end class with more consistency in 2013.

27. Adrian Hubbard*, OLB, Alabama (6-5, 252): Hubbard is the next Crimson Tide star on defense to keep an eye on. The lanky pass rusher recorded 10 tackles for loss, six sacks and three forced fumbles in a breakout sophomore campaign and could be on the verge of much bigger things. His length, athleticism and versatility (lines up at DE, OLB) are even more intriguing than his statistics to this point.

28. Stephon Tuitt*, DL, Notre Dame (6-5, 303): Despite Manti Te'o and Louis Nix III generating most of the attention, Tuitt stood out on a dominant Irish defense a season ago. Reportedly as much as 20 pounds heavier this year, Tuitt hasn't been as impressive. He had an interception against Michigan but was otherwise blanked by the Wolverines' experienced offensive tackles, Lewan and Michael Schofield, and recorded just one tackle against Purdue. He's slipping -- quickly.

29. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State (6-1, 288): Like Tuitt, Sutton is heavier in 2013 and hasn't been as effective. Listed at 265 a season ago, he led the Pac-12 in both tackles for loss (23½) and sacks (13) in 2012. Sutton flashed his extraordinary quickness in the controversial "win" over Wisconsin but was largely contained by the Badgers' front, registering just one tackle.

30. Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford (6-4, 261): Murphy had 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks to lead the Cardinal in both categories a season ago. He started off his 2013 season in fine form, sacking David Fales,'s No. 4 senior quarterback, twice in Stanford's Sept. 7 win over San Jose State. The stout, broad-shouldered athlete may project best as a defensive end rather than as a standup linebacker for some.

31. Lache Seastrunk*, RB, Baylor (5-9, 210): Baylor hasn't been challenged yet (it has outscored Wofford and Buffalo 139-16) but Seastrunk has been as dominant as scouts expected, rushing for 261 yards and an NCAA-leading five TDs in two games. Seastrunk is an "air back" with the agility, balance and stop-start ability to elude defenders.

32. Austin Seferian-Jenkins*, TE, Washington (6-6, 267): A two-sport star for the Huskies (football, basketball), ASJ provides a unique combination of size, overall athleticism and ball skills, making him a true mismatch for opponents. He missed substantial time over the spring due to an offseason arrest for DUI and an injury to his pinkie which required surgery. It showed in his debut against Illinois, as he was flagged three times and gained just eight yards on three catches.

Just missed the cut

David Yankey*, OG, Stanford
Colt Lyerla*, TE, Oregon
Cedric Ogbehi, OT, Texas A&M
Jordan Matthews, WR, South Carolina
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Hasean Clinton-Dix*, FS, Alabama
Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
Denzel Perryman*, OLB, Miami
Johnny Manziel*, QB, Texas A&M
Aaron Lynch*, DE, South Florida


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